Abstract: The subjective nature of pain makes its communication from one person who is suffering to another who is observing quite a challenge. Accurate perception of others’ pain relies on different behavioral and neurophysiological mechanisms, which can vary depending on individual, relational and contextual factors. This talk will discuss evidence showing how the perception of pain in other individuals is related to patterns of brain response similar to those found when people are in pain. While this ‘shared representation’ of pain, which can automatically trigger an aversive response in the observer leading to avoidance, has likely played a key role in the species’ survival, we posit that other regulatory mechanisms can override this response to allow for concern and prosocial behaviour to emerge towards the person in pain. This conscious act of empathy has no doubt contributed to our social nature.
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